In chronological order
Ruslan Skvortsov, Frantz in Coppélia Ten years earlier, Skvortsov had been the first to dance Frantz in Sergei Vikharev’s production of Coppélia at the Bolshoi. When the ballet returned in 2018—sadly, without Vikharev—he was left out of the revival. Then emergency struck, and Skvortsov was summoned to perform with almost no rehearsal. By that point he hadn’t danced the part in five years, and his costumes looked conspicuously used in comparison with the others on stage. But the instant he ran out on it was obvious why Vikharev had chosen him. Charm, wit and great humor, with mime that was delightfully clear, natural, musical and beautiful. And when his solo variation finally came, it was glorious. The audience would not rest until he re-emerged from the wings for another bow, which doesn’t happen all that often at the Bolshoi. His triumph was total.
François Alu, “Les Bourgeois”
I almost groaned out loud when Ben Van Cauwenbergh’s piece was included on the program. I had zero interest in seeing a facile demonstration of circus tricks. But Alu is not like most performers of the piece. As a native speaker of French, his connection to the text is total. He paints a dramatic portrait in intense, minute detail. Alu doesn’t look like a ballet dancer. Bald, bearded and stocky, in a button-down shirt and pants he could almost pass for a regular Joe at a bar after work. And so there is no flippant nonchalance, it is more like the angst of being trapped in mundane middle age. And then the chorus begins, and Alu unleashes the most astonishing energy and feats of virtuosity. He is stupendous, and basically no one else should even bother doing the piece.
Yui Yonezawa, Ashton’s Cinderella
Yonezawa is a picture-perfect ballerina. Everything about her speaks of impeccable training, excellent taste and immaculate execution. Her Cinderella is exquisite and radiant, with lyricism, limpid clarity and sincere feeling. I don’t have many opportunities to see the National Ballet of Japan, but I seem to have the good fortune of seeing Yonezawa each time, for which I’m very grateful.
Alexandre Riabko, the Muzhik in Anna Karenina
When I had seen Neumeier’s Anna Karenina before, I found the ghost of the killed railway worker tiresome. To say the least. Yes, yes, foreshadowing. I get it. Enough already. He would appear again and again, and I would simply roll my eyes. But Riabko is completely engrossing, incredibly charismatic and magnetic. Here he wasn’t his usual lucent spirit, he was its opposite: dark, frightening but irresistible. It didn’t matter what Anna or Vronsky were doing. Riabko could be standing or lying perfectly still, while they danced up a storm, and I couldn’t tear my eyes off him for an instant. But then I am convinced that Riabko is the greatest dancer in the world.
Ekaterine Surmava, Sagalobeli
I had seen the duet from Yuri Possokhov’s Sagalobeli in isolation, but in 2019 I finally saw the complete ballet. The men of the State Ballet of Georgia weren’t quite a match for its women, but the latter were very beautiful indeed, especially Surmava in that duet – tall, proud, strong and very striking, Not soft, but expressive, not mushy, but eloquent and entirely right.
Ruslan Skvortsov, Albrecht in Giselle
I spent more than 30 years looking for my Albrecht, the one the music conjured up in my imagination. No one fit the bill until Skvortsov, who met all my expectations and then opened my eyes. The gorgeous Romantic style, the dramatic verisimilitude of Act 1 and the sustained poetic atmosphere of Act 2, the leitmotifs he threads through the ballet, his miraculous musicality, the originality and insight of the final scene with Giselle. It was the eighth time I saw him as Albrecht and can still honestly say that he is The One.
Svetlana Lunkina, Giselle
Transcendent, despite the fact that she was dancing injured. I have seen many good Giselles. I reckon I have seen three truly great ones. For me, Lunkina ranks first among those performing the role today. Unearthly beauty.
Iana Salenko, Giselle
It’s rare these days to see traditional ballet values upheld – alignment without distortion, arabesques and attitudes at 90 degrees, immaculate footwork, beautiful, floating port de bras. Salenko’s performance is most remarkable for her mad scene, because unlike the verismo approach we usually see, hers unmistakably resembles a bel canto mad scene. The connection should be obvious, but it’s not something often seen.
If I may be allowed an entry from ballet in cinema –
The Royal Ballet in Concerto, Enigma Variations and Raymonda Act 3
The comparison with Ashton didn’t do MacMillan or Nureyev any favors, but the Royal Ballet made a very strong argument for being the finest ballet company in the world right now. There were many admirable performances: Mayara Magri somehow combining speed, serenity and liquid smoothness in the third movement of Concerto, wonderful performances in Enigma Variations from Christopher Saunders, Laura Morera, Calvin Richardson, Romany Pajdak, Francesca Hayward and Luca Acri, and the unimpeachable professionalism of Beatriz Stix-Brunell, who danced in all three ballets. Unfortunately, there was a really big fly in the ointment.
Margarita Shrainer, Swanilda in Coppélia
Crass and obvious, with mugging, crotch-splitting extensions and iridescent blue nail polish
The Bolshoi’s revival of Symphony in C
With few exceptions, slow, small and relentlessly upright. The principal women were the most problematic, with several getting their feet tangled up and most simplifying the choreography. The costumes are hideous, too.
Antonina Chapkina, Queen of the Dryads in Don Quixote
Arms and legs all over the place
Yulia Stepanova, Kitri in Don Quixote
Not because she fell over. That could happen to anyone. Not because her size made the one-handed lifts impossible. I can live without them. But because she was more bulldozer than ballerina and ran roughshod over the music when she couldn’t maintain a consistent tempo.
Islom Baimuradov, Birbanto in Le Corsaire
Grotesque overacting and out-of-control dancing. I wish I could unsee this.
Kristina Kretova, Chopiniana
In her defense, Kretova did face the daunting task of sharing the stage with Olesia Novikova and Ekaterina Osmolkina. But style is hard.
If I may be allowed an entry from ballet in cinema –
Natalia Osipova, Raymonda Act 3
No French noblewoman or “Hungarian princess” [?], Osipova danced with all the finesse of a market-stall seller from Ryazan. I could say a lot of things, but I’ll just ask: Why, why give this particular variation to a dancer who doesn’t have nice bourrées, but who does have a maddening tendency to lock her elbows straight?
The ongoing strike by the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet. I am on their side and hope they prevail. But it’s frustrating for everyone not to see them on stage.